The Asterisk War
Episodes 1-3

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water ?

The first episode of this (unsurprisingly) light novel-based series paints it entirely as a typical super-powered school battle anime, one which carries now-standard opportunities for fan service and harem-like hijinks. Even the setting and musical score (especially the opener, which debuts with episode 2) emulate predecessors like the Index/Railgun franchise, and various elements practically demand comparison to the concurrently-airing Chivalry of a Failed Knight. The second and third episodes also do little to dissuade the impression that everything is just assembled from pieces borrowed from previous works; several elements should ring familiar to anyone who has seen Unbreakable Machine-Doll, for instance. That being said, the last few minutes of episode 3 do show that the series has at least a little potential to step above its base components and distinguish itself from rivals. The challenge for the writing over the rest of the series is going to be to firmly grasp and hold on to that potential, as much more commonly moments like that are brief bright spots in otherwise-mundane material.

The exact circumstances behind why some individuals in this setting have powers are largely irrelevant so far; it has to do with an asteroid strike mucking up the world and inducing both the rise of the Integrated Empire Federation (hereafter IEF, a conglomerate which functions as the dominant political entity) and the birth of super-humans called Genestella, who have enhanced physical abilities and can use special weapons to manifest powers. Within the Genestella, less than 2% are also Strega (essentially, witches) who can also apparently command elemental powers without their weapons. Julis-Alexia von Riessfeld, the princess of a European monarchy which we later learn is effectively a puppet regime for the IEF, is one of the latter type, and it's her room that Ayato Amagiri unwittingly intrudes on while returning a fallen handkerchief. Despite a rocky start which involves Julis challenging him to a duel over the offense and him accidentally copping a feel, he does enough for her that by episode 3 she has warmed up to him enough to actually talk to him, something which she hasn't ever done with any of her other classmates at Seidoukan Academy on Asterisk, an island city specifically set up to train and inculcate Genestella.

That frank discussion about her past and why a princess like her is doing what she is doing, and especially the fact that it is coming so early in the story, is the difference-maker so far. It breathes a little more life and character into a female co-lead who had been stuck in a mere cookie-cutter role to that point. Sadly the same hasn't happened yet for Ayato, who is still stuck in his own cookie-cutter mode. Yes, he has this thing going on of looking for his older sister, who came to the same school five years before but mysteriously disappeared (and the first episode suggests that her data was deliberately deleted as part of a cover-up), and that seems to be connected to his rare ability to tame an Ogre Lux (read: ultra-powerful weapon) named Ser Veresta with an exceptionally high compatibility rate; it was a weapon his sister once, used after all. And he does seem quite capable. That is not yet enough to distinguish him for numerous other similar characters, however.

The first three episodes also introduce a handful of other apparent regulars. Student Council President Claudia Enfield is a curvy blond sexpot who seems a little too happy to have Ayato on board and is clearly trying to seduce him even though she passes it off as teasing when it doesn't work. The nature of whatever past connection she has to Ayato has yet to be even hinted at, though episode 1 clearly suggests that she does have one. Ayato also has a male roommate who seems like a pretty cool guy, and there's a thuggish fellow student who keeps pestering Julis for a duel rematch; he initially seems like he might be involved in sneak attacks on Julis, but episode 3 suggests that such actions would be out-of-character for him. (A thug he may be, but he prefers a straight-up fight.)

Together these three episodes lay out a relatively clear plot direction: some individual or group is trying to disable Genestella from competing in an upcoming Festa, an intermural battle tournament with prize money and prestige on the line. They seem to be trying to knock off Julis, too, but episode 3 hints that Ayato is either also a target or actually the main target. That provides a mystery to drive the plot while the episodes otherwise lay out plenty of opportunities for flashy action and character interactions amongst the established cast, and really, that's all a series like this needs. The balance of these elements so far has been relatively good, though the quality of them is hardly extraordinary. The same can be said about the artistry, animation, and relatively modest (and modestly-used) fan service; the latter is clearly going to be a regular element but apparently not a dominant one.

At least this series hasn't (yet?) introduced an all-too-incestuously-inclined younger sister character who gets into bitchy scraps with the female lead, so that's a plus in its favor compared to its main competition this season. Overall, The Asterisk War is currently beating Chivalry by a small margin, but it's still early.

Rating: C+

The Asterisk War is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

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